Sunday, February 28, 2010

Dying in and for a good book

Last week one of my students (from now on I will refer to her as Reader Rabbit* ) came up with sigh, slumped across the circulation desk and gasped "You gotta help me." Working in schools my mind raced and I quickly ran through the possibilities. Epi-pen? Diabetes? Swine flu?

"What is it?" I asked, maintaining calm.
Her cheek was flat on the desk, her hair flopped over her face and, in a weak voice, moaned "I need a reeeaally good book." Seriously, that is what she said.

The conversation that followed revealed that Reader Rabbit had just read a few books in quick succession and not one of them had been satisfying. She was seriously hungry for a really good book. She also said that she didn't want to have to hunt. She needed someone to give her a really good book. Just put it in her hands. I could relate, having had exactly that same experience myself.

As a reader you can go through a few titles and each seems better than the last, and then you hit a dry run. Nothing is really, deeply satisfying. When Reader Rabbit next comes by I am going to put this in her hands.

Going Bovine Going Bovine by Libba Bray

Sixteen year old Cameron just wants to get by in life. He has no direction, no ambition. Then he finds out he is going to die. This is a coming-of-age/road trip that involves gnomes, jazz, fire monsters, and Nordic Gods, to name a few themes. But really it is an analysis of society, religion and the meaning of life. And love.

View all my reviews >>

 The link is to my GoodReads account. Like Reader Rabbit, a lot of people respond better to a personal recommendation. They want that 5 star assurance that puts a book into their hands. As part of our continued effort to build our virtual learning commons I'll be assessing GoodReads, Shelfari and LibraryThing as tools to reach out to our students and act as a virtual reader's advisory. Gotta keep our readers satisfied!

*Reader Rabbit is a real student who has made a few appearances in past blog posts. She is a great kid who gives me a lot to think about.

Photo credit:

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Thursday, February 25, 2010

Working hard or hardly working?

Come by the CCHS Learning Commons and you will see a lot of students, doing a lot of stuff. Are they working hard, or hardly working? Two recent blog posts had me thinking about this.

New tools are replacing the familiar, and work looks different. With students what might look like messing around on Facebook may actually be very valid work.

As an example, in Jenica Rogers post, Attempting Elegance, she reflects on transliteracy as literacy in using new media. She was pulling photos off her iPhone and communicating on Facebook and Twitter during a seriously busy day. Why? She was studying her library's  Facebook presence because they are "about to use it as a reply venue for our lobby’s suggestion board". She was Twittering a source regarding assessment data. All work, all important, and these are the tools that are most efficient for her and the stakeholders she works with.

Stephen Abrams writes in his blog, Stephen's Lighthouse, about building relationships as being of primary importance to libraries, and perhaps more relevant data than circulation statistics. Harder to quantify as well. "...the foundation of library relationships is communication – one to one and one to many. It’s not really what we measure a lot – circulation. And it’s not easy to measure."

We need to be doing more with these communication methods  in the CCHS Learning Commons. We will definitely be creating a Facebook Group as well as a Twitter feed. Our wiki portal will be updated to include a photo stream from our account for images of the work and fun we experience daily.  So if you see us typing away on Facebook, you might think we are hardly working, but we will be working very hard to build our relationships with students and staff through these dynamic communication tools. Just like our students.

Photo Credit:
Abram, Stephen. Stephen's Lighthouse. 2.25.10
The Foundation of Library Relationships

The Proverbial Lone Wolf Librarian's Weblog

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Saturday, February 20, 2010

It's not about the books

Books have become a lighting rod in the discussion of libraries. People have very strong opinions and relationships with their books, and the idea of books. The emotional and sensory aspects, the relationship of the reader to print material, and the balance, or should I suggest battle, between formats. This is a crucial discussion but may be distracting us from the bigger question.

It's not about the books. It is about the content. And content is the business of libraries. Not format. We need to offer material in all possible formats available now, as well as formats we can't anticipate. Books are still an integral format as there is much information still found only in print, and we should no more rush to discriminate against paper than we should close our eyes to new formats. What this discussion is drawing attention to is the work of libraries. Is this work relevant? Will libraries as we know them survive? Should libraries as we know them survive?

Some content is only available in books. We need books. Some content is only available in digital format. We need digital. Some students with learning disabilities can better access content through audio versions. We need audio books. Graphic novels present ideas that aren't available elsewhere, and appeal to students who respond to visual representations of ideas. We need graphic materials. A diverse community requires a diversity of formats. As librarians we need to be agnostic about formats and content. 

Students are accessing information through a myriad of digital devices. We need to support those devices. It isn't about the libraries of the future. It is about the libraries of today. YouTube just turned five years old. The volume and diversity of information found on YouTube is simply astounding. In a blink it has become  vital component of learning and an integral part of our national and cultural archive. Who saw that one coming?

Just this past week one of our most avid readers stopped by to stock up on books for vacation week. She quickly assembled a stack of nine books, and as I checked them out to her, she sighed "I wish I had a Kindle. You could just check out all these books to my Kindle, and that way I could take them all  on vacation with me. I'll never get them all in my suitcase." (The flaw with her wish is of course, Kindle is still proprietary. But she has the vision! She gets it!) As a reader who lives for "getting lost in a book', the paper format impedes her access. Her reading is limited to what she can lug. She was absolutely thrilled when I whipped out a yellow 4-way H band to hold the stack together, and chattered on about all the "quaint" little supplies and gadgets that were found only in libraries. As she threw her 30 lb. backpack loaded with textbooks and sports gear over one skinny shoulder and tucked her nine hardcover stack under the other arm and staggered out the door, I couldn't shake the feeling that we could be doing a better job of introducing new reading technologies.

Reading has changed. It is time to stop wringing our hands over books. We need to be clinical, not emotional. Books are a content delivery system. What are the best systems for diverse content and diverse needs?  More than ever before we are positioned to provide leadership and instruction for students and faculty in the quickly evolving terrain of text. Just ask the students interviewed in the recent New York Times Room for Debate article, The Library, Through Student's Eyes. They present a diversity of opinions that embrace the traditional role of libraries as well as the new, and they clearly lay out the various and diverse needs of the reader, and how formats facilitate or hinder their work. Understanding the format and instructional needs of our students and our community is our mission. 

We need to be more than a quiet place to study.

Photo Credit:
Source: Nevins Memorial Historic Collection
Nevins Library First Librarians.
16 May, 2009. JPEG. file
Wikimedia Commons
Attribution license

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Thursday, February 11, 2010

Format bigotry or What exactly is a book?

The New York Times article Do School Libraries Need Books? hits a nerve. Kudos to the articulate and informed library professionals and advocates who were interviewed for the article, even if I disagree with most of their conclusions.

Over the course of the article there are so many references to the tangible experience of paper.  Books and paper have strong sensory, emotional, nostalgic associations. Over and over again I have had people explain with passion how they love the feel and smell of books and the weight of holding it in your hands. Nobody comments on how heavy a book is, how you can't take that many in your suitcase for vacation because of the weight, or holding it in bed at night. Nobody mentions that with paper you have no chance for digital accommodations like text-to-speech which allow greater access to all learners.

These same strong connections carry over to the idea of the library. We all know and understand what a library is, what it does for us, and how to use it. We know it is a quiet place dedicated to learning and inquiry. We understand the librarian is there to help us navigate the process of acquiring knowledge and building meaning.

We all want students to love reading, to become effective users of information and life-long learners. These goals are no longer enough, and our emotional connections with the familiar are holding us back. If we want libraries to survive and remain relevant we need to play closer attention to schools like Cushing Academy, because they are blazing the trail for all of us.

"Our library is now the most-used space on campus, with collaborative learning areas, classrooms with smart boards, study sections, screens for data feeds from research sites, a cyber cafe, and increased reference and circulation stations for our librarians. It has become a hub where students and faculty gather, learn and explore together." 
This is a perfect illustration of a learning commons, and it isn't a quiet space dedicated to books. It is a dynamic, energized space students recognize as valuable and pertinent to their needs and education.  Hmmm....

"...they need more help from librarians to navigate these resources, so we have also increased our library staff by 25 percent."
Many other programs are facing staff cuts, yet Cushing needs to add staff to support increased demand for  student learning. Hmmm...

"Cushing Academy today is awash in books of all formats. Many classes continue to use printed books, while others use laptops or e-readers. It is immaterial to us whether students use print or electronic forms to read Chaucer and Shakespeare. In fact, Cushing students are checking out more books than before, making extensive use of e-readers in our library collection. Cushing’s success could inspire other schools to think about new approaches to education in this century."
Readership and circulation is up. Hmmm...
Our bigotry toward diverse formats of reading must end, because it is denying students access to skills, content and collaborative possibilities. Reading can be solitary and books reinforce the role of the reader alone with print. But knowledge and creativity are global. The time of the student alone in the metaphorical stacks or being "lost in a book" is over and has been replaced with connection, new perspectives, and a broader and more dynamic canvas for learning. 

Reading is more relevant and critical than ever.  Paper and books aren't going anywhere. However, if we want robust programs, increasing readership and to become the hub of learning and skill-building for our schools, we had better diversify and start offering our students greater choice.

Good job, Cushing. I'm taking notes (some on paper, and some are digital.)

Photo Credit:
Flickr Creative Commons


Uploaded on September 30, 2009
by spikeblacklab

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Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Google Buzz and the Naked Emperor

It takes a lot to make my head spin, but it is now officially spinning.  Google Buzz reminds me of "The Emperor's New Clothes." Bear with me.

(I am summarizing here.) The vain Emperor is tricked by a couple of traveling tailor's into buying the most expensive, fabulous clothes the world has ever seen. They work and sew and and mime that they are creating an outfit so stunning that only the most discerning eye can see it. Now, the Emperor can't see the clothes but plays along for fear of looking less than clever himself. On the big day he pays the tailors who quickly run off, and parades down Main Street buck naked. Everyone oohs and aahs so that they will seem fabulous, and it takes the sensible little boy to say "Hey - the Emperor is naked!" With me so far?

What does the Emperor have to do with Google's latest product, Google Buzz?

Google = Tailors
Privacy = Clothes
Us = Emperor

Intellectually I have recognized for a long time that our concept of privacy has become an illusion. We all have remarkable digital footprints that cover every aspect of our lives, generated from the multitudes of information streams we generate through credit cards, car transponders, cell phones - everything.

Google Buzz pulls back the royal robes, if you will, and shows the degree of connectivity our every online click can have with people we include in our personal network. But it also shows the volumes of data we generate. Combine Facebook, Twitter and any other social networking platform, aggregate it, toss in the jet propulsion of Google, and you have Google Buzz.

I am exhilarated as well as horrified. And I am standing here, buck naked, without any privacy.

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Thursday, February 4, 2010

Judging a book by the cover

Turns out you can judge a book by its cover. Standing in front of a display case one of our avid readers discussed book covers.

"This one really delivered. The cover drew me in, and I wasn't disappointed."

"I know you said this one got great reviews, but I just don't like the cover art. I'm not going to spend time on it unless someone I trust reads it first."

Best of all:

"Book covers aren't so different from food. If you want people to eat it, it has to look good."

Publishers need to pay attention because she is right. If it doesn't look good you are going to have a hard time getting someone to try it.

Photo credit:
Flickr Creative Commons

Book-Color Histogram.

Uploaded on July 19, 2009
by Patrick Gage

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